It’s been about 30 years since I checked in with a show about the gender wars called “Defending the Caveman,” which turns out to be as funny, revealing and ultimately as sweet as it was back then.
The author and original performer in this one-man monologue, Rob Becker, has made a career out of the show, which played on Broadway for a time. Becker continues to update it even as new studies dissect the subject of male/female differences and similarities.
All of which tells me that Becker hit on something in 1981, when “Defending the Caveman” debuted. The current production at Penn’s Landing Playhouse in the Independence Seaport Museum marks its second run here in two years. Espousing the Caveman philosophy – the differences between men and women in the ways they process information and then behave – is the actor Vince Valentine, a Philadelphian who amicably draws both men and women into the show’s thesis. In the original production, Becker was similarly endearing, a quality that makes “Defending the Caveman” feel like a conspiracy with the audience as much as a two-act show.
Valentine’s been performing the piece on and off for 11 years – he’s among the 50 actors who’ve defended the Caveman in 45 countries. He appears, after a short TV introduction to the theme, on a stage with some cave renderings, a primitive statue of a cave woman, and furniture that looks to be carved from rock. He speaks about men and women as “two different cultures with different languages and different histories” that ultimately come down to hunting for men, gathering for women.
One of the keys to the success of “Defending the Caveman” is its tone – the show never seriously gender-bashes. It teases us about our relationships, but Becker’s script treats men and women as equal-opportunity targets. Women like to gather details and information, which they share “like little tiny gifts that you wrap up and give somebody.” Men relate more quietly, grunting while fishing and verbally jostling over who’ll get the next beer out of the cold-pack. Both are funny in Becker’s writing and Valentine’s delivery; each is ultimately respected as part of the human condition.
The observations in “Defending the Caveman” are mostly presented as undeniable truths, even if they really aren’t. But again, Becker’s show has a way of taking the basics – housework, shopping and the like – and giving us enough examples so that we can identify with the broad statements. (Women gather clothes to peruse when they shop, men hunt down a single shirt and might wear it until the sleeves fall off. )
The show sometimes cites current studies to lead into the jokes or bolster them. In the version that Valentine performs, “Defending the Caveman” is sprinkled with Philadelphia references, bringing it all back home. Home, though, could be just about anywhere because “Defending the Caveman” appears to be universal.
“Defending the Caveman,” presented by Penn’s Landing Playhouse, is extended through Sept. 13 at the theater inside Independence Seaport Museum, on Penn’s Landing at Walnut Street, next to the Hilton Hotel. 855-448-7469 or www.plplayhouse.com.